NATURE VS. NURTURE….Comment-less Matt Yglesias makes a good point today that I have also found myself amused by in the past. The question is whether being gay is in the genes or caused by upbringing:

Republicans opted for upbringing by a 61-39 margin whereas Democrats chose innateness 66-34. I think it’s interesting that liberals who tend to resist genetic explanations of behavior like it when it comes to homosexuality where it’s thought to make the case for gay rights stronger.

I’ve mentioned before the fact that many liberals mightily resist the idea of biological causes of behavior, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, for mostly ideological reasons. Most conservatives, on the other hand, mightily resist the idea that people are products of their environment, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, also for mostly ideological reasons. But just as both sides are willing to change their tune on federalism whenever it suits them, so are they willing to change their tune on nature vs. nurture when their normal stance doesn’t support their preferred policy goal.

What makes this especially silly is that the real answer to this question is in little doubt: it’s both. There are almost certainly complexes of genes that make one more or less likely to become gay, and there are almost certainly environmental cues that make it more or less likely that these genes will be expressed.

But that’s so boring, isn’t it? And what’s even worse is that, as with most of the ideology tied up in nature/nurture arguments, this whole question is wildly misplaced. Whether homosexuality is innate or not, the only real question is whether it’s behavior that we approve of. If it’s not, then who cares if it’s innate? If there were genes for murder, we still wouldn’t approve of murder. Likewise, if we do approve of it, then who cares if it’s mostly a matter of upbringing?

The question of the biological sources of behavior is an interesting area of scientific study that will have considerable impact on us in the future. But it says nothing at all about what kinds of behavior are acceptable, and it is unwise to try and support moral arguments using scientific evidence that might change tomorrow. Both sides in this absurd war should learn that.

UPDATE: As usual, Kieran Healy sums up the whole situation better than either of us, and in far fewer words.

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